Rosenstiel’s growing aquaculture program trains students in raising high-demand fish using techniques they develop and perfect at the experimental hatchery.
Early one morning last spring, a few University of Miami students looked into a huge circular tank as Assistant Research Professor John Stieglitz used a small net to skim the surface of the water.
The group marveled at the wonder in front of them. Fertilized yellowtail snapper eggs floated close to the surface. Hundreds of thousands of them.
Stieglitz quickly transferred the tiny spherical embryos to a small incubation vessel for hatching; and soon after, he moved the young larvae to a larger tank. This is where they would grow into juvenile fish, approximately the length of a human finger.
This was just the start of a two-year research project to determine whether yellowtail snapper can be reared in aquaculture facilities for commercial fish markets.
The yellowtail snapper is just one of 10 different species, including plaice, mahi-mahi, red snapper, cobia, almaco trevally, Nassau grouper, hogfish and even stone crab, with which Stieglitz and Daniel Benetti, the director of the aquaculture program, work at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. In the program, graduate and undergraduate students, along with Benetti, Stieglitz, and others, strive to find the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly methods of raising seafood in aquaculture facilities. , then share the knowledge within the industry.
“We want to play a leading role in the development of sustainable seafood,” said Stieglitz. “And we are focusing on the most sought-after marine fish species with the greatest potential to advance this industry in the United States and reduce our dependence on wild fish stocks and imported seafood.”
As the global human population continues to increase and wild fish stocks decline, the aquaculture industry is expanding rapidly to meet a growing desire for fresh seafood. Today, more than 55 percent of the seafood people eat is grown in aquaculture facilities, and most of the fish eaten in the United States comes from other countries, according to Benetti, who is also a professor of marine biology. and ecology. All over the world, it is clear that people love fish because 3 billion people depend on it as their main source of protein, Benetti added.
“It is the fastest growing food production sector in the world,” said Benetti. “And the United States is lagging behind [in aquaculture]- over 90 percent of seafood consumed in America is imported and 80 percent of this is farmed.
A desire to improve and refine aquaculture practices at a time when the US industry is taking off underpins the entire program, Benetti noted. Stieglitz and Benetti have established strong relationships with successful aquaculture companies around the world and use this knowledge to guide their research.
“We are known for developing cutting edge technology to produce healthy and sustainable seafood,” said Benetti, who has led the program for 25 years. “It will help feed the world in the future.”
While the aquaculture program began in 1968 with a focus on two species, pompano and shrimp, today its experimental hatchery, run by program alumnus Ron Hoenig, continues to add new types of fish with the support of public and private subsidies. This strain sparked the interest of Gabriel Jimenez, a master’s candidate who worked at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University before continuing his graduate studies at Rosenstiel School.
“The funny thing about aquaculture is that each species has very different needs,” Jimenez said. “I am now working with seven species at a time which can all be grown in the United States, to decide which species I want to work with in the future. “
Another benefit of the program’s research is that it can help support the local fishing industry. In recent years, fishing quotas for yellowtail snapper have been reached early in the season. And in the case of the flounder, the amount of fish available off the coasts of the Atlantic states has declined, leaving fishermen with no stable income. Such disturbances can have negative impacts that extend to all active areas of the waterfront, Stieglitz pointed out.
“We want to provide the technology through aquaculture to bridge this gap between supply and demand for fresh seafood in the United States, while providing opportunities for increased resilience in active riparian communities,” Stieglitz added. “Aquaculture facilities could offer an alternative to fishing communities when quotas are closed and help diversify their income. “
Researchers are also looking for ways to extend the shelf life of wild-caught and farmed fish, like the yellowtail snapper, so that people beyond the southeastern United States can enjoy the tropical species.
“It’s not just about producing fish for the table, but we’re also working to improve the value anglers receive from their catch,” said Stieglitz.
While a large grant from the Saltonstall-Kennedy program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) supports the yellowtail snapper project, Stieglitz is also working on cultivating the plaice, a fish native to Korea and Japan, also known as “hirame”. The fish is often used for sushi and its taste and texture is very similar to the species of wild plaice caught and eaten along the eastern seaboard of the United States. But it is getting harder and harder for fishermen to catch.
“A number of groups have expressed an interest in commercial cultivation of this species, so we are conducting a pilot scale study to cultivate winter flounder. [at our Experimental Fish Hatchery] and to learn what would be the cost of producing this fish at different scales, ”added Stieglitz, noting that the project is supported by funds from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission of NOAA.
Simultaneously, the program is also working on a new project focusing on the Almaco Jack, a fish often found in the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic Ocean. The grant is intended to support the development of a U.S. aquaculture industry around the Almaco Jack and other warmwater marine fish species, Stieglitz said.
“We are trying to optimize the production process of this species using advanced scientific methodologies to find the most efficient ways to cultivate them,” he added.
As their research typically results in work strategies for fish farming, the aquaculture program also maintains close relationships with government and industry leaders who have also played a major role in the development of fish farming. program expansion. These outlets provide insight into areas where further research is needed and fund many of the program’s pilot projects. For example, one of the most successful fish species the program has worked with is the cobia, following an instrumental research agreement with Cuna del Mar, the parent company of Open Blue. Sea farms. This has aquaculture facilities off the coast of Panama, where many alumni now work. In addition, the NOAA Sea Grant has also been a vital boost to the program for many years, noted Benetti.
To show how successful aquaculture is, almost all of the program’s graduates find employment in the field, and many have even started their own businesses. Six of the program’s alumni are currently working at Atlantic Sapphire, a huge land-based aquaculture facility that breeds salmon in Homestead. Another alumnus, Aaron Welch, founded Two Docks Shellfish with his father after completing his master’s degree in the aquaculture program and earning his doctorate. in Ecosystem Science and Policy. Another group of alumni works in Hawaii at Blue Ocean Mariculture.
“Our network is remarkable and the level of recruitment in our graduate program is unprecedented because people know our graduates are well trained,” said Benetti. “Additionally, since we have over 150 alumni working in industry, research organizations, government and academia, we are directly or indirectly involved in aquaculture initiatives around the world. “
And as the aquaculture industry evolves, so does the research of the program. Faculty and staff and students with experience in offshore aquaculture facilities overseas are working with state and federal officials to assist in the development of a pilot project in the Gulf of Mexico, while continuing to refine fish farming strategies that consumers prefer. Others are helping to understand whether the release of juveniles into the wild is helpful in increasing populations of wild fish, while some students strive to study the best types of nutrients to feed captive-bred fish.
“We are helping to train the next generation of aquaculture professionals, and the University of Miami is leading the way in this regard,” said Stieglitz. “This is the future of seafood, and our research is helping to advance the sustainability of the industry as a whole. “
Learn more about obtaining a graduate degree in aquaculture.